Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Five
As he blinked away the spots from his eyes, Cassius turned around to see his companions standing astonished – the lighter had fallen from Zaraq's hands, and the fireworks were still unlit. With faint screeches and screams, the shadows were departing – probably to find somewhere darker to hide.
And then, as the flame subsided, a little Grundo wandered up. "May Mira bless our meeting, my friends! I'm glad that you've finally arrived!"
Cassius had thought the advisor was dressed oddly when he first met them, but the magma Grundo who stood in front of them took the cake. He was dressed in rich red-and-gold clothes with a long cape and a gold staff, and the fiery patterns shifted amid the darkness of his skin and danced in his wide eyes made him look as if he would burst into flame at any moment. He bowed. "Suroxano."
Marzai gasped. "The Firetamer?"
Suroxano shook his head. "It is not possible to tame fire – it rebels as much as any slave. Rather, I use my powers to befriend fire – mortal fire, starfire, and the fire at the heart of the rock, all will listen to me and obey for love of me."
There was a little choking noise from behind them – Cassius turned again just in time to witness Trinian hit Bea in the shoulder. The Ixi was clearly losing the battle with laughter.
Suroxano crossed his arms. "Beatrice, you don't believe that many things have power over you, do you? Be careful where you tread, child of the gentle lands. My own magics are benign – I do not need obeisance or even recognition. But the darker ones out in the blackness would like nothing better than to bring you to your knees."
Bea asked in astonishment, "How do you know my name?"
Suroxano said, smiling, "I have my 'mumbo-jumbo', remember? The returning son of the shining city, the young knight, the unproven captain, the exiled son, the tinkerer, the runaway, the warrior, and the awakening one... I've seen you all."
Cassius assigned all the roles in his head – Marzai, Kyrival, Trinian, even though he had no idea what "unproven" was supposed to mean, Yaxal, Zaraq...
He knew that he certainly wasn't the warrior, or the runaway – those had to be Bea and Jory, though he didn't know which. It was more likely that Jory was the runaway, though – he didn't have that same steel to him that Beatrice did.
But that left him as the awakening one – what by all the stars was that supposed to mean?
Kyrival bowed before the mage. "Thank you, sir. You saved our lives."
Suroxano nodded grimly. "The darkness is multiplying. Jalitha is preparing to deal the final blow. Without aid, Eoxan-zortha will fall, and the Shining City will vanish into the void."
Kyrival said, "We need to get back – perhaps Xianna returned in my absence, or we've received word from the Neopians about reinforcements, or maybe something else has happened that means we aren't actually all going to die in the next few weeks..." His voice trailed off, and Cassius looked at Kyrival with new eyes. The Shoyru was certainly big and tough, but he was also very young – barely more than a boy.
Suroxano said, "I will accompany you to the Shining City – I will be needed there. Let us set out."
Cassius and Marzai found themselves in the back of the group again. Marzai sighed. "Kyrival feels Xianna's loss as keenly as I do – I raised both of them. They're the same age, and they're as close as brother and sister."
Cassius had never even met Xianna, but he was already desperately worried about her. What if this girl – barely even a woman yet, if she was the same age as Kyrival – was in danger somewhere, or afraid, or suffering, or even already dead? What would happen to all these people whom Marzai had said pinned so much hope on her? If Jalitha could spare that many shadows for an attack on eight travellers in the middle of the wastes, her minions must outnumber the stars.
In front of them, Bea asked, "Jory, what did that battle cry of yours mean? Steelclaw?"
Cassius could tell from Jory's stance that he had scowled – he didn't think the Wocky would reply, but after a few seconds Old Jory said, "I'll tell you someday. Say, the day Moltara freezes over."
Bea set her hands on her hips. "You're talkative today, Jory. You might want to stop that, or we could start getting the idea that you actually like us."
Everyone was watchful – Jory, Bea, Trinian, Yaxal, and Kyrival had all drawn their weapons. Cassius took out his wrench and looked at it. What could it be? Was there a spell on it? Was it something about the metal itself? Perhaps he should ask Suroxano. Shadow beasts were magic, so perhaps the magic Grundo would be able to tell him about why his wrench repelled them.
They walked all the rest of that day, stopping only once to rest. Yaxal's watch – which he'd checked every five minutes, leading Cassius to suspect he was suffering withdrawal from his motherboard in the cockpit – had it as five minutes to midnight Neopian Standard Time before they saw a glow in the distance. Marzai said, "The beacons of the Shining City welcome travellers home from leagues away. Aside from its military outposts and mines, there is no other civilization for hundreds of miles. We're the sole shining object in the night – the only thing that stops Jalitha from covering this whole side of the moon with the darkness of evil and death."
Kyrival added grimly, "And then attacking the planet side of the moon, and then Neopia. I don't need to explain why she's not fond of us."
As they got closer, Cassius saw tall towers of shining metal that glowed in the darkness spaced like jewels around a wall that stretched off into the horizon. Inside, the whole city shone with light – spires of silver, gold, purple, and blue twisted, spiraled, or shot straight into the starry sky. Ships flew around the spires or blasted off into the void of space.
Yaxal said in astonishment, "And they call this place a backwater? I had no idea anywhere in space could ever look like this!"
Kyrival asked indignantly, "Just who calls Eoxan-zortha a backwater?"
Yaxal tried to backtrack. "Well, the Alien Aishas – just a few of them – and they told me I couldn't be trusted in their business, so what do they know?"
Cassius had heard the same thing from more than just Alien Aishas. Neopians, the peoples of Kreludor City – no one paid Eoxan-zortha any more attention than they did the Aurora. It just lay here in the darkness of the spaceward side of Kreludor, shining out its light in hopes that someone would see it and recognize its need.
Suroxano said softly, "The people of the city prefer to trust to magic, even as they use technology. They understand that chivalry is worth defending. They turn to their swords, knowing that enemies from the dawn of time are often best defeated with the oldest weapons. And for that, they are punished." He added, "I saw it in the fire I used to rescue you – Virtupets will send no aid."
Marzai fell to his knees then and there. "What can we do, then? Lay ourselves out for Jalitha on a silver platter? We've never faced anything like this before – how will we ever survive?"
Kyrival shouted, slamming his sword deep into the moon-dust, "Maybe that Moonstone-curse-it space station could crash-land on top of all the Sloth-blasted pirates and do us two favors!"
Bea said, "Crash the Space Station? Hey, I'm up for that one. Not like they ever did anything for us, either."
Zaraq cackled – Cassius wondered how seriously he was considering the roll of fireworks still in his pack. Marzai asked Suroxano, "Firetamer, what were their reasons? What should I tell the Council when we meet?"
Suroxano said, "Soon your Council will receive a transmission telling them that the Virtupets forces are simply spread too thin. It may be best to leave it at that. We cannot allow our hearts to be embittered before Jalitha's master-strike hits, or darkness will surely conquer the Shining City."
Marzai pulled himself wearily to his feet, then turned to the whole group and asked, "Do you have experience dealing with space pirates? They're a new threat to us. If you would come with me to the Council, you could be a massive help to us."
Bea crossed her arms. "Or you could also fulfill your end of the bargain and either fix up the Aurora or give us a new ship and let us blast out of here before we all get killed."
Yaxal said quietly, "I'm with Bea. I kinda like all of my ears in the places they're in."
Kyrival glared at them. "What are you – a bunch of cowards?"
Bea snapped back, "I prefer the word sane, thank you very much."
Trinian said, "Silence!" He looked at Marzai. "We'll go with you to this meeting, and take a hot meal if you've got one, and then we'll all decide."
Marzai nodded. "Of course, of course. Now, if you'll all follow me to the gate, I can vouch for you so you'll be allowed in..."
Cassius only nodded – he was so tired now that he was almost asleep on his feet. He was pretty sure that Zaraq had to lead him through the city, and he hardly took any of it in, or the building that they entered. He only noticed that the blankets were soft on the bed that he lay upon as he immediately fell asleep.
After a hurried, though hot, breakfast, Cassius followed the others through the Palace of Eoxan-zortha, through a long hall lined with mosaics done in metals, mostly of men and women in armor, and into the council chamber.
He had to take a breath as he looked for his seat – the ceiling was painted a rich blue and covered in constellations. The floor was an elegantly tiled map of what looked to be the city. All around the large circular room was a long stone table with chairs that were starting to fill. Cassius took the seat that Marzai showed him to, and then noticed that Suroxano stood in the center, plainly waiting for everyone to arrive. When the silver doors were shut, Suroxano said, without giving any introduction like Cassius would have imagined customary, "Virtupets will send no aid."
The cries of dismay from the finely-dressed officials – half Grundos and half other species – echoed in the room. Cassius didn't envy them having to hear the dreadful news for the first time. The magma Grundo continued, "I have prepared to fight Jalitha, but I am not enough to turn the tide that threatens to overwhelm us. To my eyes, there is but one course of action for us to undertake.
"We must summon Lady Mira, the Space Faerie."
To be continued...